Do You Know Why I Stopped You? Part 1
It is a question no one likes hearing, and it is a situation no one likes being in. Law enforcement officers are infamous for, and have gone through hours of training, in order to convince suspects to incriminate themselves. It is a common misconception that a person might be able to talk themselves out of a ticket if they admit to a minor infraction, but don’t admit to anything too serious.
However, any admission a motorist makes will cost them something. Police officers do invest their time in pulling someone over for no reason; although, this does happen occasionally. If you have been pulled over, the police officer has a specific reason for doing so. Questioning a motorist to see what they can persuade them to admit too is a game all police officers learn in the academy.
On occasion, it does work. Pull a lady over for speeding, and she might admit to having a small amount of marijuana in her glove compartment. Pull a man over for running a stop sign, and he might admit that there is a body in the trunk of his automobile. The point is, a police officer never knows what a person might say. However, in the state of New Hampshire, a police officer cannot pull you over without probable cause. Some type of traffic violation must have been observed. In this miniseries blog, we are going to discuss the principle of “reasonable, articulable suspicion”.
As citizens of the United States, we often take for granted the legal freedoms we enjoy. The only times we consider these freedoms is when there is discussion regarding the taking away of these rights. If a politician is accused of attempting to limit our freedom of religion, right to free speech, or another right, then this can do serious damage to their political reputation.
The United States of America was founded upon individual rights, and each legal right that an individual is imbued with, in essence, limits the government’s power. For example, freedom of the press enables private citizens to serve as watchdogs over governmental activities. Likewise, freedom of speech prevents the government from silencing its citizens if they criticize the government.
The United States Constitution spells out many of the freedoms and rights American citizens enjoy, and many of these rights were established as a direct response to the oppressions the colonists suffered from at the time our nation was founded. One legal right that is of particular importance is the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. In our nation’s early days, while still under the oppression of British rule, the colonists’ property and homes were subject to searches and seizures, at any time, by the authorities.
The United States Supreme Court has drawn-out the Fourth Amendment’s protections and applied them to traffic stops. In Terry v. Ohio, a landmark 1968 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an individual can be stopped and detained briefly by a law enforcement official if the officer possesses reasonable suspicion that he or she was involved in a punishable crime. If the police officer believes that this person is dangerous or armed, they are legally allowed to conduct a search of the person’s outer garments to look for weapons. A detention of this type does not violate the citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights, but the search must be brief.
The principle of reasonable suspicion is a powerful weapon in the hands of individuals who would seek to limit the power of law enforcement agencies to intrude on citizens’ privacy. Stopping an automobile for no discernible reason is not a legal option.
When applied to DWI cases or traffic stops, the reasonable suspicion doctrine necessitates that an officer must possess a valid reason for stopping a motorist’s vehicle. Police officers cannot stop citizens at random, except under specific, limited circumstances. As aforementioned, they must have observed some type of traffic violation being committed or believe that the motorist committed some type of crime.
The power to seize and search is the core foundation of law enforcement and is quite necessary for police officers to conduct any type of criminal investigation. Without the legal right to enter a home being used as a meth lab and capture evidence, it would be impossible for officers to put a stop to crime. However, the Fourth Amendment and the restrictions it affords limit this power in a strong sense.
A police officer is legally required to abide by these laws and must be prepared to defend their actions in a court of law. They must testify as to why they chose to enter a home or pull over an automobile. A judge must use his or hers discretion to determine if the reason given is compelling and valid. The majority of judges do not hesitate to put overreaching officers in their place.
However, judges also walk a fine line between enabling law enforcement officers to conduct required investigations and defending the legal freedoms of U.S. citizens. Reasonable suspicion hearings will either suppress all the evidence obtained in a traffic stop or will affirm a police officer’s actions.
When it comes to reasonable suspicion rulings, one of the most prolific arenas is that of DWI traffic stops. New Hampshire police officers are frequently on the lookout for possible DWI cases, and they frequently overstep the boundaries of their authority by stopping automobiles without reasonable suspicion.
Tune in tomorrow as we continue to discuss how the reasonable suspicion doctrine applies directly to DWI in New Hampshire.
For more information on DWIs in our state, or for assistance with your case, please call one of our experienced NH DWI lawyers today.